5 ways assessment data builds a cycle of teaching, assessment and instruction

Armed with the right assessment data, educators can identify learning gaps, adjust class-wide instruction, spark discussion and collaborate with parents.
Ryan Hetchler
Ryan Hetchlerhttps://www.goguardian.com/
Ryan Hetchler is GoGuardian's subject matter expert on curriculum and instruction.

When it comes to assessment data, there’s no question that it plays a critical tool in helping teachers catch misunderstandings and reteach concepts closer to the point of delivery. This has always been true, but with ongoing pandemic-related unfinished learning and the start of a new semester, the urgency to determine gaps in student understanding is much higher than it’s ever been—we need to improve student outcomes and accelerate learning now.

Teachers need meaningful, standards-aligned data, as well as the tools and resources to analyze and utilize it in a way that makes sense for their classroom. It’s important to note that not all assessment data is created equal. Assessments need to be purposeful and designed to inform on a limited standard or set of standards. Question types should reflect the complexity of the learning target. Where a multiple-choice item might be perfect for assessing a math standard, a writing standard may need to be built around a rubric-based task.

Additionally, the right data gives teachers information on common misunderstandings and supporting skills, so questions and a corresponding analysis of student answers should give insight into where in the process understanding broke down. Armed with the right data, educators can identify learning gaps, spark student discussion, adjust class-wide pacing and instruction, collaborate meaningfully with colleagues, and give families the tools to help students succeed at home.

1. Assessment data reveals learning gaps

Identifying opportunities for learning acceleration is one of the most effective ways to leverage assessment data. Recognizing commonly-missed questions and standards is the best way to note what requires classroom-wide reteaching or revisions to upcoming lesson plans. Teachers can work with students who need additional support or opportunities to challenge themselves by using personalized assignments on classroom technology platforms, small group work, or one-on-one tutoring.

While this use may seem like a given, it’s certainly not always easy and requires teachers to build standards-aligned rubrics and grading systems. It’s essential to eliminate confounding factors like assessment duration to ensure teachers can clearly identify learning gaps.

2. Fueling discussion with students

Another great way to creatively use assessment data is to present the information anonymously to prompt classroom-wide discussion—an essential engagement tactic that over 94% of teachers reported using often in 2022. Teachers can have their class identify, break down, and reflect on missed questions and prompt students to work collaboratively. Using technology with a dashboard that organizes the data automatically is beneficial here.

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Teachers can also use discussion protocols and structured conversations to help students explain their thinking and show their work, which can be a significant step forward in standards mastery. When students articulate their decision-making process in new ways, it can also help other students break down barriers to their own understanding.

3. Adjust class-wide pacing

It’s no secret that every educator wishes they had more time. In addition to identifying gaps for individuals or groups of students, regular assessments can help adjust pacing calendars and focus on units or standards. With the right data, teachers can easily identify skills, standards, and content that may need more or less focus for the entire class.

For example, imagine an ELA teacher who’s about to teach a unit on Animal Farm and the powers of persuasive language and propaganda. Data from previous units or practice tests show students are excelling at citing evidence and identifying themes in a fictional text. Still, they struggle to interpret figurative language and grasp how word choice impacts meaning and tone.

With this information, the teacher can progress more quickly through the core text while dedicating time in the unit to zoom in on text snippets rich in complex language. In this case, accurate data provides the entire class more time to focus on essential skills improving student outcomes.

4. Collaboration with other educators

Utilizing classroom data allows educators to work together to determine school-wide areas for growth. Teachers can identify mastered standards and those that need more attention across grade levels, and share resources for re-teaching. If grade-level partners find they didn’t have the same outcomes from the same assessment, they can compare and contrast lesson plans and brainstorm solutions.

Sharing resources between educators saves time, improves outcomes, and enables teachers to think in new ways about how their students learn.

5. Goal setting and proof points

Finally, data can leverage outcomes through communication with students and caregivers. Parents and guardians often need to see the data to understand their students’ areas for growth and make standards and goals more tangible. This visibility helps families continue building skills on homework, in real-life scenarios, or as they prepare for future testing.

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It’s essential to keep shared data points short and sweet—try giving parents a few key points to focus on at home, using clear examples from assessments for guidance. Data points can be used for student goal-setting, providing clear direction, and orienting learners toward their progress and outcomes.

Emphasizing quality assessments

One of the most significant barriers to implementing regular classroom assessments is the time commitment required. Finding aligned content, organizing assessments, scoring items, and crunching the data is a significant investment—one educators don’t always have the time and resources to make. Technology tools, collaboration, and rubric-based data collection can improve efficiency for teachers and make assessment data more accessible and usable.

By collecting actionable, results-based assessment data and using it to push student outcomes forward, educators can build a regular cycle of teaching, assessment, and instruction—based on data—to ultimately accelerate and improve learning.

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